Tim Miller is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist at Sports Performance Academy in Blasdell and is himself an avid golfer. He has a degree in Exercise Science from SUNY Fredonia; and most evenings you can find him at Grover Cleveland or Elma Meadows.
Golf has changed a great deal over the last few decades. There are many things currently present at both the professional and amateur levels that were not in existence 30 years ago. Juiced golf balls and juiced golf clubs have given even less than average golfers the chance to go for par 5s in 2 and hit drives 250+. The object of the game has not changed, but the way people approach it has. Fifty years ago, the nineteenth hole was more likely to be visited by professionals than a fitness trailer.
Nowadays in all sports, including golf, the trend is to train using exercises that are very sport specific or functional. To most people familiar with exercise this amounts to ideas of a lot of twisting movements, exercise balls, and balance apparatus.
Players in the early and middle part of the last century had a very sport specific training regimen. In fact, the only training they had was walking the golf course and swinging a club. Harvey Penick mentions swinging a heavy club and ignoring golf carts as the only strength work any golfer needs. As a strength and conditioning coach, I think the late Mr. Penick’s advice follows one of the most important principles of sound exercise prescription. First, do no harm.
There are countless books, dvds, websites, and experts on fitness for golf. There is even a TV show that is filmed at a performance center that a major club manufacturer has dedicated for that very purpose. As a coach, I look at these shows as a great example of what a training regimen can grow to, but for the most part not the place to start.
The part about this abundance of information that I don’t like is the lack of understanding of where these exercises fit into the long term development of each individual. This missing piece is the key. The point of any training plan is to:
- Prevent preventable injuries.
- Enhance performance.
To accomplish this, we must define what our staring point is. Many athletes I see want to do whatever the latest trend is, not what they necessarily need. Most need to strengthen the connections between their upper and lower bodies. Golfers are included in this majority.
When our golf swings are not connected, many things can go wrong. We can come over the top, slice, hook, sky the ball, and even experience the dreaded shank. When there is a disconnect in our bodies, we can leave ourselves open to injuries, and our performance suffers.
Every exercise should have a goal or purpose. A requirement of all of my athletes is to be able to do a proper plank. It recruits the entire body for one purpose. That purpose is to keep the spine in alignment. Simply put, when you are able to use the body to keep your spine in a proper position, you are better equipped to prevent injury. This means more pain free golf, and more power due to stronger connections from head to toe and a more consistent swing. This also means that you are prepping your body for other more advanced forms of exercise.
A plank may be something that you have done before, but I will describe how to do it while doing more than just working your abs or “core.” Your entire body is the core and needs to learn to work as one.
- Get into a position just like the top segment of a push up. This would be on the toes with both hands on the ground and the elbow fully extended.
- Make sure that you have a straight line from your ears all the way down to your heels. A mirror or a partner with a broomstick can be used check this.
- Engage the Glutes(squeeze your butt together), and lock out the knees. This ensures a straight line through the lower body.
- Now use your abs to make sure your upper body stays in alignment. Your back should be neither arched nor rounded. (A very slight arch in the low back is ok but there should be no sagging of the hips) The shoulder blades should not be pulled back above the spine or pulled forward below it.
- The last part of this chain would be the head. To align the head, simply make a double chin.
- Hold this position for at least :10 working towards one minute. If you cannot hold this for a minute, your body will not fully benefit from other more advanced exercises until you can. If this is the case, you have some degree of structural imbalance that needs to be addressed.
The plank is where all of my athletes start regardless of sport. The plank is present in some way in every single other exercise we utilize including but not limited to squats, deadlifts, cleans, snatches, presses and jerks. The best part about planks is that they are free and require zero equipment. If they are too difficult on the floor, a kitchen counter is an ideal place for your hands so you can do a modified plank.
I hope that this helps people with their golf games in both being able to play more often and also shooting lower scores. After all, the only thing that has not changed in golf is the object; which is and always will be to put the ball in the hole in the fewest strokes possible.
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